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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Tale of two videos: Gates brings laughter to Comdex, courtroom

November 18, 1998
Web posted at: 1:25 PM ET

by Industry Standard staff

(IDG) -- You're the star of a videotape, and a room full of people watching burst out laughing. The question is, are they laughing with you or at you?

Microsoft video star Bill Gates experienced both sides within 24 hours, with a playful spoof shown during his keynote at Comdex Sunday night, and the genuine article played in court on Monday showing him questioning words like "market share," "compete" and "we." The crowd at Comdex in Vegas roared with delight as Gates made fun of himself with a video reel showing everything from a pie thrown in his face to a mug shot on Brill's Content. "My last year has been really exciting," he said, with tongue in cheek.

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But in court in D.C. yesterday, the DoJ showed another clip from Gates' deposition, in which he was unable to interpret his own e-mail from '96 that read, "Winning Internet browser market share is a very, very important goal for us." After Gates seemed to question every word in the English language, everyone in court was laughing at his performance, including Judge Jackson. The New York Times and Washington Post said the judge "chortled" and shook his head; MSNBC said Jackson "chuckled"; and the San Jose Mercury News said he "burst out laughing."

It was "not a beautiful thing to watch," Joseph diGenova, a Microsoft adviser and former U.S. attorney told The Wall Street Journal.'s David Phinney painted the scene perfectly: "A wave of giggles filled the courtroom as Bill Gates rocked back and forth searching for the right answer. Lawyers for the Justice Department smiled. Eyes rolled among the Microsoft attorneys. Even Judge Jackson openly chuckled, then smiled and shook his head."

Most lead news items were court-bound blow-by-blows, ripping Gates' apparently evasive testimony and recounting the testimony of the government's first expert witness. Some news outlets tried to fill out their accounts with sidebars or analytical depth to mainbar stories. For example, ABCNews' Michael Martinez took a look at other Microsoft lawsuits - from Sun, Bristol and Caldera - that could be costing MS in the "tens of millions." The bigger cost, Martinez said, could be in public opinion and emboldened competition.

The Merc's commentary from Rich Gray was aptly titled, "Comic Relief," but the lawman also did a quick analysis on the cross-exam of Glenn Weadock, the gov's first expert witness, who said browser integration hurt some corporate customers. Gray said the DoJ should avoid the abstract tying argument (which it lost in an appeals court) and stick to customer harm. He also said Weadock could be used against the gov by Microsoft, because his testimony "undercuts the part of the government's case that says Microsoft viewed Netscape Navigator as a potential competitive operating-system platform."

While the courtroom laughter was played high in most accounts, with reporting that even Microsoft's lawyers were chuckling at the videotaped cat-and-mouse game, ZD's court story surprisingly recounted Gates's testimony without recounting the apparent courtroom disbelief.

Expect more video clips of the courtroom variety, because The Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported the DoJ is planning on playing them before each witness. Chandrasekaran also looked at new evidence relating to PC makers in advance of an IBM exec testifying. An HP manager wrote a letter complaining to Microsoft about its control of the start-up screen: "From the consumer perspective, we are hurting our industry and our customers. This situation must change. We find Microsoft control over our Customer's Out of Box experience totally unacceptable." The Post also ran a great blow-by-blow recounting of the Comdex video.

Of course, Gates used the keynote to announce plans of a new technological breakthrough - a font enhancement called ClearType that makes text on an LCD look like text on paper to improve e-books. The Times' John Markoff said the ClearType announcement was the centerpiece of Gates' speech, meant to show Microsoft as an innovator instead of a company that borrows ideas from others. But Markoff found that ClearType "echoed earlier work done by Apple cofounder Stephen Wozniak in the 1970s." Woz' patents had recently expired.

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